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Fairness. A Sparrow. A Robin.

I was driving home from the Conners Emerson School in Bar Harbor where I had spent the day with three first grade and one fourth grade class. For reasons I’m not sure of, I began thinking of this Bible verse:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.” (King James Bible)

That’s unusual for me. I rarely remember Bible verses. In each class of ten kids we sat in a circle on a rug and talked about fairness. I love visiting with these little kids. Inside, around and over all the issues involved in the portraits is fairness. With older students I usually talk about justice, but fairness will do just fine.

After being with those kids I thought of the sparrow falling to the ground and the “Father” knowing about it . . . caring. Perhaps it was because fairness for these young kids has such a tight focus; every little action is seen through that lens. One girl said, “If I’ve got 5 pickles, it’s fair that you have 5 pickles.”

Looking up the Bible verse one finds various translations from the Hebrew. In all of them the two sparrows cost virtually nothing – a farthing, a penny, a cent, an “assar.” But there is wide discrepancy about God’s precise response. Some say the sparrow doesn’t fall without the Father’s consent. Some say “will” or “permission.” Some say “care” or “knowing.” Each translation implies a different degree of awareness or involvement from God. Many simply say the sparrow doesn’t fall “apart” from your Father, which means, I think, that the Father knows about and is connected to every living creature, no matter how seemingly devalued in man’s marketplace. God values life differently than man does and not in relation to money or utility.

I grew up occasionally hearing that verse about the sparrow. I wondered how we know that about God. Is he/she really paying attention to every sparrow? What, then, about every ant, every worm, every spider? What’s the proof? We don’t have proof, but we are aware of the sentiment – the essential equality of all life. That’s fair. Every creature is noticed; their lives and mortality are not invisible. This idea is meant to bring some comfort to those who feel like nonentities or fear that death may be a loveless black hole.

The sparrow verse then reminded me of a line from William Blake:

“A robin redbreast in a cage sets all Heaven in a rage.”

That sentiment approaches fairness differently. The robin has been exploited, victimized, imprisoned, held captive. The injustice of it kindles sacred rage, says Blake. He posits a set of values fundamental to the cosmos, existing beyond humans and based in justice, a justice which cares about mistreatment. How do we know that? We feel it. We feel it because the sense of justice is ingrained in the human spirit.

Mortality is everyone’s lot, everyone’s destiny. Because it’s everyone’s experience, it’s fair. Captivity is not. Mortality, finally, we have to accept. Injustice, we don’t.

The notion of the Father caring for the individual sparrow is essentially sentimental, like a bedtime story to comfort children. And it is based in religious patriarchy. If we re-frame the idea of the caring Father to be the caring Earth Mother, it makes complete sense. The Mother receives and recycles every creature equally – reuses, redistributes without judgment or hierarchy. That is her method of love and care. The real fairness of mortality is to defeat it; every molecule continues to live in another incarnation. Fairness based on the assumption of God’s caring is faith based. Fairness based on the Mother Earth caring is reality based.

A caged robin redbreast is a call to resistance, defiance. The call to protest. The call to take sides. The call to freedom. Knowing the fallen sparrow is cared for is an invitation to be calm, to accept.   Fairness for the robin incites a struggle for justice.

So, the moral here? Want to be fair? Embrace your Mother. Act from your heart.

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